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Tribune v. Minnesota Twins Partnership

April 15, 2003

STAR TRIBUNE, ET AL., APPELLANTS, METROPOLITAN SPORTS FACILITIES COMMISSION, RESPONDENT,
v.
MINNESOTA TWINS PARTNERSHIP, A MINNESOTA GENERAL PARTNERSHIP, D/B/A MINNESOTA TWINS BASEBALL CLUB AND THE MINNESOTA TWINS, RESPONDENT, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION DOING BUSINESS IN MINNESOTA AND HEADQUARTERED IN NEW YORK, RESPONDENT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. CT0116998

Considered and decided by Peterson , Presiding Judge, Harten , Judge, and Halbrooks , Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Upon motion by a party, it is within a district court's discretion to enter a protective order in litigation involving a government entity where good cause is shown and the court considers the effect of the protective order on the public's right to information under Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.90 (2002) (the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act).

2. Unfiled pretrial discovery documents are not judicial records subject to a common-law or First Amendment right of public access.

3. Under Minn. Stat. § 13.393, the public's right to have access to information under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act may be limited by a protective order entered by the district court pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 26.03.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellants challenge the district court's order denying their motions to intervene, to modify the court's protective order, and to have access to unfiled discovery and sealed pleadings. Appellants, all members of print and electronic media, argue that the district court (1) abused its discretion in entering the protective order and (2) erred by refusing to provide the media with access to the unfiled discovery and sealed pleadings and by denying the media's motion to intervene. Because we conclude that the district court acted within its discretion and correctly applied the law, we affirm.

FACTS

On July 31, 1998, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission*fn1 and the Minnesota Twins entered into an agreement, known as the 1998 Baseball Use Agreement. The agreement governs the Twins' use of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to play their home baseball games. At the conclusion of the 2001 baseball season, the Twins exercised their option under the 1998 agreement to play the 2002 baseball season in the Metrodome.

In the fall of 2001, local and national media reported that Major League Baseball (MLB) was considering eliminating two franchises: the Montreal Expos and the Twins.*fn2 Based on these reports, the commission sued the Twins and MLB, alleging breach of contract and other tort claims.

The district court granted the commission's motion for a temporary restraining order preventing the sale or elimination of the Twins pending a hearing on the commission's motion for a preliminary injunction. Shortly thereafter, the district court granted the commission's motion for a preliminary injunction, requiring the Twins to stay in business and play their entire 2002 schedule. The Twins and MLB appealed the district court's order, and we affirmed. Metro. Sports Facilities Comm'n v. Minn. Twins P'ship, 638 N.W.2d 214 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (Minn. Feb. 4, 2002).

While the injunction appeal was pending, the commission served discovery requests on the Twins and MLB in connection with the underlying suit. One of the commission's requests sought information on financial relationships between the Twins, or the owner of the Twins, and any other owners of MLB franchises. The Twins and MLB objected to most of the discovery requests and initially produced no documents or substantive information, which resulted in the commission bringing a motion to compel discovery. The district court granted the commission's motion and ordered the Twins and MLB to provide the information and documents requested.

After the district court's order compelling discovery and before any information or documents had been produced, the parties stipulated to a protective order, which the court approved. The Twins then provided the commission with access to approximately 20,000 pages of documents, and, later, provided the commission with a CD-ROM containing images of approximately 9,000 pages of documents. MLB did not produce any documents or information to the commission.*fn3 Additionally, unidentified parties Jane Roe and John Does 1-5 filed a redacted affidavit and memorandum of law with the district court, with an unredacted version filed under seal, objecting to the commission's discovery requests. They objected to the court's order compelling the Twins to disclose their personal financial information, which was not held by the Twins, but was held by other entities owned by the Pohlad family.*fn4

After the Twins provided the commission with the CD-ROM, appellants Star Tribune, Associated Press, and KARE-11 (media) moved to intervene and to modify the court's protective order.*fn5 The stated purpose of the media's motion was to assert and protect their right and the public's right to have access to court documents and documents produced in the course of litigation. The media also sent letters to the commission requesting access under Minn. Stat. §§ 13.01-.90 (2002), the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), to all data received by the commission in connection with the lawsuit against the Twins and MLB. When the commission did not provide access to the data as requested by the media, the media sued the commission for violating the MGDPA.

On June 7, 2002, the district court approved a stipulation between the parties to dismiss the commission's lawsuit. Under the settlement agreement, the Twins and MLB agreed not to eliminate or relocate the Twins for the 2002 or 2003 season. Shortly after the case was settled, pursuant to the district court's protective order, the Twins demanded the return of all confidential documents provided to the commission. Because the commission felt that the terms of the protective order, mandating return of the Twins' documents, and the provisions of the MGDPA were in conflict, the commission brought a motion seeking guidance from the court as to how to dispose of the confidential data. On July 10, 2002, the district court issued an order denying the media's motion to intervene and to modify the parties' protective order and denying the media's motion for access to confidential data, including the sealed unredacted affidavit and memorandum filed by Jane Roe and John Does 1-5. The court also ordered the commission to return or destroy all confidential data of the Twins in its possession pursuant to the court's protective order. On July 26, 2002, the district court granted the media's motion for a stay of the court's July 10, 2002 order pending this appeal and ordered the commission to retain the confidential documents. This appeal follows.

ISSUES

I. Did the district court abuse its discretion by entering the protective order?

II. Did the district court err in denying the media access to the CD-ROM that was in the possession of the commission and the unredacted affidavit and memorandum of law of Jane Roe and John Does 1-5 that were filed under seal with the district court?

III. Did the district court err by denying the media's motion to intervene to modify the court's protective order?

ANALYSIS

I.

The media argue that the district court abused its discretion in entering the protective order. The Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure give the district court broad discretion to fashion protective orders. Erickson v. Arthur, 414 N.W.2d 406, 409 (Minn. 1987). "Absent a clear abuse of discretion, a trial court's decision regarding ...


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